By Welsey Long
Part 1 covered risk management for airports. Part 2 delves into the differences between lone-wolf, terrorism, and IEDs.
Understanding the Difference Between Lone-Wolf, Terrorism, and IEDs
Over the years, the media has hyperinflated actual terrorist-related terminology into buzz words to fit whatever event they are discussing into something more easily understood by the masses. This severely skews the number of “lone-wolf” events upward and other extremist event numbers downward. You can try to put these terms into a box, but I wouldn’t as they are consistently evolving. If you are trying to only mitigate the terror of yesterday, you may miss the terror of tomorrow, which means we need to work twice as hard as the enemy. The term “lone wolf” is misleading in most circumstances. Generally, an active shooter or hostile threat acts on selfish, compulsive, or emotional ideology instead of attachment to a cause of theological or political nature, yet somehow “lone wolf” seems to be a one-size-fits-all label often used by various media with a poor vocabulary, or to be fair, a nonstandardized vocabulary within the industry.
Any one of these issues that your airport could face has the potential to be as lethal as the next based on application of resources, skills, knowledge, and support, so don’t favor preparation of one over the other. For instance, lone-wolf activism tends to not have as much support or funding to carry out an ideological attack, but that does not mean these attacks cannot cause incredible damage. Case in point: Timothy McVeigh, often considered a lone-wolf terrorist in the same vein as the Unabomber. McVeigh was able to claim 168 lives in a single moment in time during the Oklahoma City Bombing. Sure, that is not the thousands that were taken during 9/11, which was organized and funded by a terrorist organization with massive resources, but the potential for the lone wolf to achieve similar status is worth consideration.
This brings up another point of contention in terms of these topics: lone wolf, insider threat, terrorism, and bombing and their relevancy outside of the airport environment. To understand how these issues could impact your airport, it is necessary to become a student of terror. You must look at past and present attacks on a global scale to better understand your own vulnerabilities, recovery capability, and mitigation tactics. Consistent communication with other airports and tending to events of this nature are paramount to sharing best practices and innovations to better combat the dynamic nature of terrorism.
- Lone-wolf terrorism is terrorism plain and simple. The context to consider is that of size and scope, though I implore you to not get hung up on that as the lone wolf is only impeded by his or her own imagination.
- Insider threats can be lone wolves or attached to complex terrorist plots.
- Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-born improvised explosive devices are tools that have been and will continue to be used by all terrorist types.
Terrorism is evolving more and more into complex coordinated attacks as methods of execution, and this is bad news for the emergency responder mechanism at every level as they are immediately overrun by the ensuing workload, which means fewer resources for your airport at that time. Generally fulfilling the active shooter hostile threat blueprint is where you want the insider threat on the spectrum of terror because if they are indeed part of a terrorist organization then the damage caused can be incredible, and in fact is a tertiary application of secondary cause-and-effect problem solving. What do I mean by that? Look at trajectory planning in emergency management at your airport and within your emergency response paradigm. We are consistently looking at ways in which to determine and deduce the applicability of managing a variety of outcomes to events that slip past our risk management efforts.
The TSA in America was a reactionary establishment to the events of 9/11. This, in turn, has heightened the potential for insider threats in aviation because the TSA changed the trajectory of aircraft related terrorism from what it was in 2001. We must give consideration to our actions and plan accordingly. If you change the layout of the public entry to your airport to avoid vehicle-born IEDs, then what does that do up down the road in such an event, or if you relocate your fuel farm to provide what could be less access from potentially public areas, does that make it easier or harder for potential insider threats? Every action we take in mitigation could create an equal and opposite reaction from threats.
Knowledge and Why It Matters
Training, education, and learning from one another can never end if we wish to remain solvent in terms of safety and disaster risk reduction—not just for your airport but for your community. What do you mean to your respective community? I bet you mean everything as I have seen the impact of small to large airports on their surrounding communities, and it is always impressive regardless of size and scope. Are you looking at the vulnerabilities within the community?
There is an almost symbiotic relationship between the airport and the surrounding area in so much as one affects the other in both positive and negative fashions. If a terrorist or lone-wolf attack is carried out within your community, what can ARFF or law enforecement officers do to help? Do you have a response plan for support? To some degree, there could be considerable application of irregular operations at your airport if the community is in turmoil: roads shut down, ground transportation halted, or wide spread panic. What if the event, accidental or terrorist in nature, involves an aircraft within the region? We know that our airports are best equipped to handle those issues regarding training and equipment. It is imperative that we have a strong and respectful mutual aid partnership, so we can offer help where help is needed, be requested when help is needed, and be operationally ready for such an event. You may even work at a large airport with incredible resources, but there are no better resources than human capital, teamwork, and communication.
WESLEY LONG works at the Glacier Park International Airport as the fire chief, operations director and is a certified emergency manager, certified professional manager, ACE trusted agent, and Airport Security Coordinator. Prior to the 13 years he has worked at GPIA, he spent 10 years as a firefighter in the United States Air Force, spending six years in the Pacific Rim and four in Space Command.